A Documentary Film Produced by Forum Films,
an Initiative of Afriforum
“A War Unleashed Against Us”
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party
Centurion Lake Hotel: 2 December 2015
It is always a pleasure for me to be in the same room as Dr Anthea Jeffrey, as I admire her tremendously for what she has done for the record of history. I believe in establishing the truth, so that we can learn from the past and build something better for the future. Building on a foundation of propaganda is always dangerous. At some point, the house of cards comes crashing down, and it is inevitably the stability and cohesion of a nation that suffers.
The propaganda we are up against in South Africa is about our past. For decades, a simplified narrative has been carefully maintained of an evil white regime versus a righteous ANC. No space is given to the presence or contribution of any other protagonist. By juxtaposing the ANC and the apartheid regime, the ANC is clearly understood as being “the good guys”.
This was an easy narrative for the international community to embrace, steeped as it was in a Cold War mentality. If the ANC is the opponent of evil, it must by definition be good; and if its actions are intended to bring down apartheid, nothing it does can ever be wrong.
But the reality was far from that simplified narrative. We were living in a complex time which created a multi-faceted struggle, waged through multiple simultaneous strategies.
Understandably, having embraced the simplified black-versus-white narrative, the international community was bewildered by black-on-black violence. Unable to place it in the context of our liberation struggle, it was largely ignored, or explained away with the propaganda of a Third Force.
But how does one ignore the death of 20 000 black South Africans?
Thanks God, a bright and tenacious academic refused to ignore this violent chapter of our past, and embarked on a journey to document exactly what happened. South Africa, and indeed the next generation, owes a debt of gratitude to Dr Anthea Jeffery, for she has waded into the shadows of a profoundly painful time, and brought us a seminal account of the truth.
I often give people a copy of “People’s War” in the hope that they will begin to understand why South Africa still needs reconciliation. But I fear that not everyone has the capacity to read such an impressive body of work. I am therefore grateful to Afriforum for taking on the daunting task of making the contents of this book accessible through the medium of film. As the first project of Forum Films, this is certain to shake things up in the world of documentary film making.
Having interviewed me extensively for the making of “Tainted Heroes”, Mr Roets chose the title of my address today with perspicacity. “A War Unleashed Against Us” aptly describes what Inkatha faced when people’s war was imported to South Africa. The internecine, low intensity, civil war that engulfed us in the eighties and early nineties has left many in our country with the impression that Inkatha and the ANC are sworn enemies. But that too is a simplified narrative. I therefore invite you to examine the truth about our past.
I cut my political teeth in the ANC Youth League at the University of Fort Hare. Already I was steeped in politics, for I used to take dictation from my uncle, Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, as he engaged his political correspondence. Dr Seme was the founding father of the South African National Native Congress, and was among those leaders who laid the principle of non-violence at the foundation of our struggle.
Rusticated from Fort Hare for my political activities, I completed my studies at the University of Natal, upon which I began work in Durban. At every possible opportunity, I found myself visiting Inkosi Albert Luthuli at Lakani Chambers. We spent hours discussing politics, servant leadership, and the importance of a non-violent struggle. Beyond our strong friendship, Inkosi Luthuli became my mentor.
I already knew the young lawyer who had a legal practice with Mr Oliver Tambo in Durban. Nelson Mandela was a friend of my father-in-law, and he and I became firm friends as well. I worked closely with the leaders of the ANC and my involvement in the liberation struggle was well-known.
Thus, when the Homelands policy was implemented by the apartheid government, it was natural for the leadership of the ANC’s mission-in-exile to approach me on a responsive strategy. Mr Tambo and Inkosi Luthuli sent a message to me through my sister, urging me not to refuse if the people of KwaZulu asked me to lead.
We rejected the idea of separate development and despised the Homelands policy. But we understood that it was not optional. It was being imposed, and the only opportunity it afforded us was to undermine the system from within. That was the mandate I received from the leadership of the ANC.
So, when the people elected me, I became the Chief Executive Councillor of the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly. Four years later, I became Chief Minister of the KwaZulu Government. Through this position, I fulfilled my mandate.
In pursuit of their grand scheme of balkanising South Africa, the apartheid regime insisted that KwaZulu take nominal independence. Millions of black South Africans would lose their citizenship. The Nationalist Government could then claim that it was not oppressive, for there was no black majority in South Africa to oppress.
Their only problem was my steadfast refusal to accept nominal independence for KwaZulu.
Years later, when former President FW de Klerk appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he admitted that it was my stubborn refusal to take independence for KwaZulu that derailed the grand scheme of apartheid. The regime was finally convinced that failure was inevitable; and apartheid began to crumble.
Knowing what had happened, the Chairperson of Anglo American, Mr Gavin Relly, said, “I think history, if reasonably and objectively written, will endorse the fact that Buthelezi was the anvil on which apartheid ultimately faltered”.
So I did what I had been asked to do by the organisation I was raised in. I fulfilled my mandate, winning a decisive victory for our liberation struggle.
How bizarre then that in April 2002, former President Nelson Mandela should say, in a recorded interview, that I was a target for annihilation by the ANC. He said, and I quote, “We have used every ammunition to destroy him, but we failed. And he is still there. He is a formidable survivor. We cannot ignore him.”
I remember so vividly the opening salvo of that decades’ long campaign to destroy me.
The ANC’s mission-in-exile was calling for international sanctions against South Africa, and large-scale disinvestment. The principle of non-violence had been abandoned and uMkhonto weSizwe was actively sowing terror in South Africa. A people’s war had begun.
A few years earlier, I had visited Zambia to thank President Kaunda for giving sanctuary to all our political exiles. During that visit, President Kaunda advised me to establish a membership-based organisation to ensure a cohesive force for liberation. Upon my return, I canvassed the views of Mr Oliver Tambo, whom I met with often outside South Africa. Thus, with Tambo’s approval, I formed Inkatha yeNkululeko yeSizwe as a vehicle to reignite political mobilisation within South Africa. Before long, the ANC sought to use Inkatha’s structures to channel weapons and MK operatives into our communities. But Inkatha adhered to the principle of non-violence.
All of my training and all my mentors had impressed upon me that we had to maintain the high moral ground. Negotiations and non-violence were imperative and could not be compromised. Moreover, Inkatha, being a democratic organisation, asked the people what we should do, and overwhelmingly our people rejected violence. We already faced extreme hardship in day to day life. Adding bloodshed and terror was asking too much. It was too high a price to pay for what we knew could eventually be achieved through different means.
Our people who lived in South Africa also rejected the call for sanctions and disinvestment. International companies operating on our soil were some of the biggest employers of black South Africans. If they withdrew, jobs would be lost, and the poorest would suffer the most. In the long-term, the economy which we planned to inherit would be weakened.
I was therefore travelling throughout the world, visiting Heads of State, and arguing against sanctions. On these two key issues, sanctions and violence, we were increasingly out of step with the ANC.
Thus, in October 1979, Mr Tambo invited me, together with a delegation of Inkatha, to meet with him and his delegation in London. For two and a half days we tried to convince them to adopt a multi-strategy approach, while they tried to convince us to embrace an armed struggle and sanctions. In the end, without finding agreement, we set a date to meet again after discussions within our parties.
But that meeting was never to take place. Just days later, Mr Tambo released a statement denying that we had met. And then, speaking at the 25th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, Mr Alfred Nzo, the ANC’s General Secretary, fired the opening salvo in what would become a decades’ long campaign of vilification against me.
He labeled those who worked within the Bantustan system as “politically bankrupt careerists and renegades” who had “betrayed the… sacred interests of… the people”. They would, said Nzo, be “swept away onto the rubbish heap of history”. I was shocked when Mr Tambo did not contradict him.
Instead, Tambo addressed a press conference the following month in Lusaka, ostensibly to deny reports that the ANC-in-exile sought to have me assassinated. During that conference, one journalist suggested that my role as Chief Minister of KwaZulu was divisive and asked Mr Tambo how he would justify my actions. Tambo replied, “I have no way of justifying his actions at all… there is no basis for it. He emerges quite clearly as a spokesman for the regime.”
And so the truth began to be buried under years of propaganda.
Immediately the ANC saw Inkatha as its biggest threat to political hegemony. We already had more than a million card-carrying members in KwaZulu and the Vaal Triangle. The people’s war was thus turned against Inkatha. The strategy was to assassinate established community leaders and forcibly replace them with ANC leaders. More than 400 IFP leaders and office bearers were killed in a systematic plan of assassination. To date, none of those deaths has been fully investigated.
Murder, rape and maiming became daily occurrences, and we were constantly attending funerals. I stood at the graveside of thousands of mothers, brothers and children. No matter how many tears we shed, there were always more. But at every funeral and at every rally, I called for peace. I urged our people not to retaliate and not to perpetuate the cycle of violence.
Never once did I order, authorise or condone a single act of violence. Because of this, I refused to apply for amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mr Thabo Mbeki, in his capacity as President of the ANC, and many ANC leaders even in Cabinet, filed amnesty applications in which they admitted to having committed “grave violations of human rights”. The law defines this as involving murder, torture or mayhem. They all received blanket amnesty, without ever having to disclose what they did. We will thus never know whose blood is on their hands.
The IFP made a comprehensive 700 page submission to the TRC, detailing hundreds of murders of IFP leaders and office bearers. Not a single public hearing was held to discover who killed them.
My refusal to apply for amnesty was based on my knowledge that I had done nothing wrong. Instead, I publically stated that if I had committed any crime or had orchestrated any criminal act, the State should charge me. That never happened.
My conscience is clear; but my heart remains troubled. For I know there are wounds in our people’s psyche that have not yet healed. Reconciliation is not yet achieved. Tragically, the present leaders of the ANC seem unconcerned with pursuing it. That was not the case with Mandela. We wrote to each other throughout his time in prison, for our friendship persisted. His last letter to me from prison, shortly before his release, expressed his anguish over the bloodshed and violence between our people. He wanted to meet as soon as possible.
Friends, I am not claiming that no wrongs were committed by IFP supporters. That time was characterised by violence, counter-violence, defensive and even pre-emptive violence. Our people had to defend themselves and often they were pushed beyond breaking point by countless incidents that went largely unreported in the media. Again and again, Dr Jeffrey’s book tells the story of sudden explosions following a series of smaller atrocities.
But the profound difference between Inkatha and the ANC was our strategy. They had highly trained operatives with sophisticated weapons and international funding. We had ordinary people trying to survive another day. Inkatha never had a military wing, for we never abandoned the principle of non-violence.
The propaganda that the apartheid government trained Inkatha “hit squads” has long been discredited. Of course, that doesn’t stop our detractors from repeating old lies.
Intelligence was continuously received on assassination plots against me, planned attacks on KwaZulu Ministers, and plans to destroy government buildings. KwaZulu’s small police force could not protect against such attacks.
I therefore reported the threats to the national government. In response, my Secretary of Administration, Mr Zakhele Khumalo, was asked to send 200 men for training as VIP Protectors. Where they would be trained or what it would cost was never discussed with me.
Unfortunately, upon their return, one of these VIP Protectors was involved in an act of violence. The ANC immediately took the gap, claiming the South African Government had trained “hit squads” for Inkatha which, they said, proved collusion to destroy the ANC.
This accusation was tested in a criminal trial in 1996 against the former Minister of Defence, General Magnus Malan, and Mr Zakhele Khumalo. That 18 months’ trail ended in acquittal by the Durban Supreme Court when the court, in its own words, could find “no convincing evidence that the SADF had authorised the KwaMakhuthu attack or that the Caprivi training had intended to equip Inkatha to carry out unlawful killings.”
Undoubtedly there must have been rogue individuals who sought to use Inkatha supporters against the ANC. But there was never collusion between Government and Inkatha. It was never discussed either openly or covertly, for everyone knew I would never allow violence in any form, against anyone.
While our people were being targeted and killed, while blood ran in the streets, Inkatha never stopped campaigning for the release of Mandela. We held more rallies under the banner “Free Mandela” than anyone else in South Africa. I quoted Mandela extensively, when it was illegal to do so. And ultimately, when President FW de Klerk announced in Parliament that he was releasing Mandela, he named me as having helped him reach the decision to do so.
More than that, though, history will show that the IFP brought the ANC to the negotiating table. We were approached by the Nationalist Government to negotiate bilaterally, as the official representative of the oppressed majority. But we placed an absolute condition on negotiations. The IFP would not negotiate until everyone could come to the table, until political prisoners were released and exiles could come home.
One might ask why Inkatha fought so hard for the ANC when our people were dying at the hands of uMkhonto weSizwe. The answer is: we were not fighting for the ANC. We were fighting for South Africa. We were striving for a future in which our nation could be reconciled, black with black, black with white, white with black. Our focus was continually on freedom, unity and peace.
Twenty one years into democracy, that remains the focus of the IFP. We are still facing a war. Thanks God, it is not a war fought with AK47s, necklacing and terror. But it is a war no less. It is against corruption, growing divisions, poverty and economic crisis. It is a war against weak leadership.
As we wage this new war, we are constantly aware that reconciliation is needed. We are not yet a unified society. The wounds of the past are not yet healed. Allowing divisive politics in a society like ours is like playing with matches in a dynamite factory.
I pray for the future of our country, and as I did through years of war, I still call continually for peace.